Living with Music
Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings
Publication Date: May 14, 2002
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Before Ralph Ellison became one of America’s greatest writers, he was a musician and a student of jazz, writing widely on his favorite music for more than fifty years. Now, jazz authority Robert O’Meally has collected the very best of Ellison’s inspired, exuberant jazz writings in this unique anthology.
Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma City in 1914. He was educated at the Frederick Douglass School and at Tuskegee Institute, where he studied the trumpet and music composition. Ellison moved to New York City in 1936 and lived in Harlem until his death in 1994. His novel Invisible Man (1952) was the winner of the National Book Award and one of the most important and influential American novels of the twentieth century. Ellison was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1975 and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1985.
Robert G. O'Meally is the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University and the founder and director of the Center for Jazz Studies. He is a leading interpreter of the dynamics of jazz in American culture. O'Meally is the author of several books, including Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday and The Craft of Ralph Ellison. In 1999, he received a Grammy nomination for his work as coproducer of the five-CD set The Jazz Singers. He lives in New York.
“No Ellison fan or jazz aficionado should ignore this book.” —Publishers Weekly
“Most of us just listen to it, but Ellison truly inhabited jazz. Lovingly collected here for the first time are the crème de la crème of his music pieces. . . . Prose rarely resonates like this.” —Library Journal
“The nonfiction pieces repackaged here include considerations of blues, gospel, and flamenco. . . . As the slips of fiction and correspondence gathered here testify, all Ellison writing is jazz writing.” —Entertainment Weekly
“[Ellison] may have stopped playing jazz, but he never stopped celebrating it throughout his long literary career.” —The Washington Post
“Whether he is writing a homage to Ellington on his seventieth birthday, analyzing how the blues infuses Richard Wright’s autobiography or reviewing recordings of Mahalia Jackson, Ellison is insightful while keeping the focus on what role the music plays in American culture.” —The New York Times Book Review